Playing accurate, well-defined heights is a huge part of a successful drumline for uniformity in sound volume as well as appearance.
Most arrangers will write typical dynamics into a drum part, such a f, mf, mp, etc. That is great for understanding the volume you should be drumming at, but you need to really define each of those dynamics in order to ensure that everyone is approaching them the exact same way.
Define the Heights
There are a couple approaches used by different instructors, but the one I prefer is to define a set of heights by the number of inches from the drum head to the bead of the stick, along with the degree of wrist turn.
Height 1 = 3” (10-degree turn)
Height 2 = 6” (20-degree turn)
Height 3 = 9” (30-degree turn)
Height 4 = 12” (45-degree turn)
Height 5 = 15” (60-degree turn)
Height 6 = Vertical stroke
By using this approach, you have removed all subjectivity on playing at different volumes. A six-inch tap is the same to every player everywhere … it is six inches.
Train Your Muscles
After defining the heights, it’s important to train your muscles to understand where each height level is.
This means lots and lots of repetition, playing your exercises at different heights, making sure that everyone is focused on height accuracy.
Show the Height
I like to take an old drumstick and put colored tape at every 3-inch interval, so I can walk around and visually represent each height.
Mark Up the Music
Then the next step is to go through your music, and define every single accent and tap height. If it is a four-count crescendo, define the starting height, ending height as well as height checkpoints in the middle. This can be very time-consuming, but it is a worthwhile investment over the course of a season.
About the Author
Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. During the past 15 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.